Study links certain sleep disorders with accelerated aging

During OSA fits, sufferers will usually stop breathing for about 10 seconds at a time though it can be longer. Sweet dreams?

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Sleep-disordered breathing is a general term that encompasses several chronic conditions from frequent snoring to obtrusive sleep apnea, which occurs when the airways become blocked during sleep. During OSA fits, sufferers will usually stop breathing for about 10 seconds at a time though it can sometimes be longer. This causes the individual to violently awake.

There are certain ailments that fall under the umbrella term of SDB, that don’t cause individuals to stop breathing completely during sleep, like sleep hypopnea for instance, a disorder wherein blood oxygen saturation becomes lower due to continued shallow breathing. However, every case of SBD, results in intermittent sleep, as the deprivation of oxygen, however severe, triggers an inner alarm inside the body.


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At the 33rd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in San Antonio Texas, new insights regarding the long term effects of Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB) were presented by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Here were some of the findings.

The long term effects of intermittent sleep

The researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital behind the latest study published their findings in the journal Sleep just last week. By examining the breathing patterns,  oxygen levels in the blood, heart rate, limb movements, and the DNA methylation of 622 adults (with an average age of 69 years old) via polysomnography,  lead author Xiaoyu Li, determined that increasing SDB severity and consistently disrupted sleep was associated with age acceleration.  Each standard deviation increase in the arousal index, (a scientific measure of sleep disruption) was associated with the equivalent of 321 days of age acceleration.

Li expounded in a recent statement, “People’s biological age might not be the same as their chronological age. Individuals whose biological age is higher than their chronological age exhibit age acceleration or fast aging. In our study, we found that more severe sleep-disordered breathing is associated with epigenetic age acceleration. Our data provide biological evidence supporting adverse physiological and health effects of untreated sleep-disordered breathing.”

Fortunately, Li went on to say that the various conditions that fall beneath the massive umbrella defined as Sleep Disordered Breathing, are treatable and the even the effects of epigenetic aging are reversible. If you suffer from chronic snoring, sleep apnea, or sleep hypopnea, Li, suggests you try automatic positive airway therapy or a  mandibular repositioning device (MRD). 


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.